QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
B e f o r e :
|THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF DARTFORD BOROUGH COUNCIL||(CLAIMANT)|
|(1) FIRST SECRETARY OF STATE|
|(2) WILLIAM LEE||(DEFENDANTS)|
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited
190 Fleet Street London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MR J FINDLAY appeared on behalf of the CLAIMANT
MR T MOULD appeared on behalf of the FIRST DEFENDANT
MR M WILLERS appeared on behalf of the SECOND DEFENDANT
Crown Copyright ©
"... would reduce the perceived openness, encroaching into the countryside and appear to extend the urban sprawl. As such, the use would conflict with two of the purposes of including land within the Green Belt."
"68. There is no undeveloped land allocated for gypsy sites but, in my opinion, the release of land in the Green Belt would conflict with national and local policy drawn up to protect such areas. Nevertheless, within the Borough there is no evidence of land other than urban land outside the Green Belt being allocated and no proposals have been made for locations where gypsy encampments might be acceptable in the Local Plan Review. Circular 1/94 advises that although private site provision is encouraged, wherever possible gypsies should consult authorities on planning matters before buying land on which they intend to camp. The appellant and the other families occupying the site were made aware of the planning situation immediately after moving onto the site but continued to develop it. On balance, I find the unmet need for additional gypsy sites in the Borough does not amount to a very special circumstance on its own to justify the release of Green Belt land in this location, contrary to development and emerging plan policies and Government guidance.
"69. The proposed use is glimpsed from parts of the surrounding countryside and from Ship Lane to the west of the appeal site. The appeal site is an enclave of vegetation and trees in a gently undulating landscape that descends down to Sutton-at-Hone. Due to the open agricultural landscape around the appeal site, it forms a prominent area in the countryside. Any use of the area would be perceived although, due to the limited scale of the proposed use in relation to the site area, I am of the opinion that it could largely be accommodated without undue harm to the visual amenities of the area. I consider that the siting of a maximum of six caravans on the land would leave sufficient space for vegetation, existing and proposed, for the use to be assimilated into the wider landscape in the summer without visual harm. Nonetheless, I am concerned that in the winter the visibility of the use would be greater and, although planting could break up the perceived mass of the caravans, the encampment would be evident from lights, activity and domestic paraphernalia that could be glimpsed. I consider that the use of the land would be perceived and therefore the apparent undeveloped openness of the area would be compromised by the proposed use...
"70. I acknowledge that the appellant needs a settled site from which he can continue to travel as appropriate. The educational needs of the children and health and welfare of the family are material considerations. Eviction from the site would disrupt the education of the children although the need for them to attend the particular local schools was not evident in all cases. Some of the children may be settled in local schools and I accept that continuity could assist in a better education, but there are no very special needs for a particular school or type of schooling only found in this location. In my opinion, the personal circumstances, while special, do not provide the very special circumstances necessary to overcome the harm from inappropriate development."
"74. I have considered the conditions in document 18 discussed at the inquiry in the light of the advice in Circular 11/95. Planning permission in the Green Belt should only be granted in the light of the very special circumstances, some of which were personal to the appellant and his extended family. I therefore consider that a personal condition would be necessary, but the condition as worded in document 18 would be too restrictive, should the families have additional children. If planning permission were granted, condition 1 should read:
'This permission shall enure only for the benefit of Mr William and Mrs Beverley Lee and their children, Mr John and Mrs Yvonne Lee and their children and Mr Joseph and Mrs Janet Lee and their children.'
"75. Consideration of the proposal has been on the impact of six caravans within the whole site. In the interests of the visual amenities of the area and the free flow of traffic, the number of caravans on the land at any time should be restricted to six."
"8. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector for the reasons at IR 67 to 68 that an unmet need for gypsy sites in the borough does not amount to a very special circumstance on its own to justify the release of Green Belt land in this location, contrary to development and emerging plan policies and Government guidance.
"9. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector for the reasons at IR 70 that although eviction from the site would disrupt the children's education, there is no evidence that there are very special needs for a particular school or type of schooling only found in this location. He therefore agrees with her conclusion that the personal circumstances, while special, do not provide the very special circumstances necessary to overcome the harm from inappropriate development."
"Reports from Kent County Council indicate that only William and Beverley Lee's children are registered at local schools and their attendance is sporadic. No special educational needs were cited at the appeal in terms of education."
"(i). There is now evidence of the fact that three of his four children have 'special educational needs' and that eviction of the family from the land would be 'educationally disastrous and [would] seriously prejudice their longer life term prospects' - see attached letter from Mr Watson, the head teacher at St Paul's CE (VC) Primary School; and a further letter about Wayne Lee from Mr Gritten, the head teacher of Phoenix Centre.
"(ii). The Appellant's 75 year old uncle, Leonard Bignall, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and recently experienced a significant deterioration in his health that resulted in his admission to intensive care in the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mother Hospital in Margate. Mr Bignall now needs to be provided with full-time care by members of his family. The Appellant is one of Mr Bignall's closest relatives and the only person in the family in a position to offer such care. If the family are evicted from the site and have to return to a life on the road it will be impossible for them to provide Mr Bignall with the requisite degree of care and his health is likely to suffer a further deterioration.
"(iii). The Appellant has now managed to build up a healthy business and has a number of regular clients in the area. If the family are refused planning permission and forced to leave the land then the Appellant will find it difficult if not impossible to maintain his contacts and his business."
"... would destabilise him, set him back and would most likely result in him dropping out of the education system at secondary level."
"... that the regular schooling received by all three boys has made a significant difference to them. To disrupt what has been set in place would be educationally disastrous and seriously prejudice their longer term life prospects."
"The prospects for Gypsy children with little or no education is bleak indeed."
"If he has to leave The Centre, because his parents have to move, he will never again attend full time education."
"With particular regard to the children, in the recent case of R (Chelmsford BC) v The First Secretary of State and Draper  EWHC 2978 Admin makes it clear that the educational needs of children will not normally amount to very special circumstances and that such new evidence as there is does not alter the balance."
"... make it clear that the educational needs of children will not normally amount to very special circumstances."
"He considers instead that it is appropriate in the circumstances to re-determine the case by considering the written representations from the parties, alongside the report of the Inspector, and the evidence submitted to the original inquiry."
"The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector for the reasons at IR 67 that there is an unmet need for gypsy sites in the borough. The Secretary of State considers that the need for gypsy sites in the area should be accorded weight. Although it is a material consideration the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector at paragraph 68 of her report that it does not amount to a very special circumstance on its own to justify the release of Green Belt land in this location, contrary to development and emerging plan policies and Government guidance. The Secretary of State has also given weight to the appellant's need for a site from which he can continue to travel as appropriate (IR 70).
"15. The Secretary of State has considered the further representations received from the appellant on 17th February 2004 in regard to education needs of the children and the supporting documentation from the heads of local schools. It seems to the Secretary that, in the light of the special educational needs identified, there is a strong case for the appellant to remain in the area so that the children's education is not disrupted, and he thinks that the educational needs of the children is a matter to which significant weight should be given in redetermining the appeal. The Secretary of State has also had regard to the other personal circumstances put forward in the written representations, namely the need to care for a sick relative, and to maintain the appellant's contacts and his business. However, he does not propose to give these factors as much weight as the educational needs, since he does not consider that it has been demonstrated that it is necessary for the appellant to remain on the appeal site for either reason.
"16. The Secretary of State concludes that the strong personal circumstance and the need for gypsy sites amount to very special circumstances which clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt by inappropriate development and any other harm."
"18. The Secretary of State has considered whether a temporary permission should be granted, either to enable the children to continue their education (IR 55) or to enable the family to search for an alternative site (IR 42). In this instance the children's education is a strong personal circumstance, which, alongside the need for gypsy sites in the area, amounts to the very special circumstances needed to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt by inappropriate development and any other harm. As it appears that the youngest child is in year 1 and potentially will not finish his schooling for another 10-12 years, the Secretary of State does not consider that a temporary permission for this length of time would be appropriate. Moreover, he considers that after 10-12 years the families would have a well-established home on the site and that to remove the families from the site after such a long occupancy could place a disproportionate burden on those persons, such as to violate their human rights under Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights.
"19. The Secretary of State considers that as the family is to be allowed to stay on the site primarily because of the children's special educational needs, it would not be reasonable to limit their occupation to a short period to enable the appellant to search for another site.
"20. Having carefully weighed up the harm to the Green Belt against the matters put forward as very special circumstances, the Secretary of State has concluded that there are very special circumstances in this case which outweigh the harm to the Green Belt in this particular case. He therefore proposes to grant a permanent permission."
"23. The proposal constitutes inappropriate development in the Green Belt, and is therefore, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and is contrary to development plan policies and national policies for the protection of the Green Belt. The proposal would also cause conflict with two of the purposes of including land in the Green Belt, namely checking the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas, and safeguarding the countryside from encroachment. The Secretary of State accepts, however, that there would not be undue harm to the visual amenities of the area.
"24. As regards the very special circumstances put forward, the Secretary of State accepts that the appellant's children's educational needs are of significance and in view of the special needs which are currently being met at local schools, he places considerable weight on the children's educational needs. He also accepts that there is an unmet need for gypsy sites in the borough. For these reasons, the Secretary of State concludes that the material considerations put forward by the appellant amount to very special circumstances, which are sufficient clearly to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt by inappropriate development and any other harm."
"(i). This permission shall enure only for the benefit of Mr William and Mrs Beverley Lee and their children, Mr John and Mrs Yvonne Lee and their children and Mr Joseph and Mrs Janet Lee and their children.
"(ii). The total number of caravans on the site at any one time shall not exceed six."
"There will be many cases where the inspector or the Secretary of State is uniquely placed to decide whether or not a particular factor can fairly be described as a very special circumstance."
"... where reliance is placed upon an assessment of the need to make provision for accommodation for gypsies in a particular area."
"In such cases it will be very difficult, if not well nigh impossible, for a court to conclude that the circumstances relied upon by the decision taker could not reasonably be said to be 'very special'."